December 7, 2016
After shore leave on a Friday in December 1941, Jerry Schenkelberg of Carroll stood on a dock in Hawaii after spending some time with his brother Clayton and waited for a motorcraft to take him back to the USS Nevada.
While on the dock, Schenkelberg chatted with C.B. “Chas” Laustanau of Dedham and then was on his way back to Pearl Harbor and the Nevada.
A little more than a day later, the then-18-year-old Jerry Schenkelberg was rushing to load an ammunition hoist during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Clayton, now retired from the Navy and living in San Diego, was stationed at a Pearl Harbor submarine base during the attack. Laustanau was killed aboard the USS Arizona.
“We never get tired of (discussing and remembering) Pearl Harbor because it is such an important day in our lives, and it should be in the lives of everyone in the U.S.,” said Schenkelberg, who is now 68 and lives on Birch Avenue in Carroll.
Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought America into World War II.
Schenkelberg and his wife, Sally, will be at the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., this weekend for Pearl Harbor displays and ceremonies. Four of their children will meet them in Independence.
A Carroll native, Schenkelberg went into the Navy at the age of 17 in November of 1940 and served until July 1946. He was also aboard the Nevada during the invasion of Normandy in 1944.
But during those wartime years in the Navy, Schenkelberg said, “Pearl Harbor stands out.”
A storekeeper aboard the Nevada, Schenkelberg said the ship had just come into port from maneuvers at sea on the weekend of the attack. He spent some time on Friday ashore and then was working on inspections Saturday.
On the morning of the attack, Schenkelberg was below deck. Chickens were already in the kitchen’s oven for Sunday dinner.
At around 8 a.m., battle stations sounded and Schenkelberg spent the next two hours loading ammunition onto hoists for surface vessel guns. From beneath the ship’s deck, Schenkelberg said, he couldn’t see the carnage that was taking place in the harbor.
At times the ship lost power and the crew was hoisting the ammunition by hand.
During the attack, the Nevada moved from its position alongside the Arizona and ended up beached. In the aftermath of the attack, Schenkelberg said, the first thing he saw was “smoke and oil in the water.”
A few weeks earlier, Schenkelberg and one of his good friends, John Hallmark, had their battle stations changed — Schenkelberg to the below-deck ammunition hoisting area and Hallmark to a phone talker position on one of the ship’s anti-aircraft placements. Hallmark was killed in the attack.
During a crew muster later, one of the ship’s officers who hadn’t remembered the switch saw Schenkelberg and asked: “That you Jerry, or are you a ghost?”
Schenkelberg, who was busy cleaning up the ship after the attack, said that two Marines who took Hallmark from the ship almost identified his body as Schenkelberg’s.
“If I would have stayed working it would have become official,” he said.
On Monday, Dec. 8, Clayton came aboard the Nevada to see if his brother was all right.
“I saw him as soon as he came on the ship,” said Jerry Schenkelberg.
A frequent speaker on Pearl Harbor, Schenkelberg has given his firsthand story to schoolchildren and members of the media over the years. Several area radio stations and newspapers interviewed him this week.
“He can tell you about things that we can only read about,” said Carroll High history teacher Ted Edwards.
Schenkelberg said the experience at Pearl Harbor has affected some of the attitudes he has held throughout his life.
“I know that I can handle death,” he said. “I feel the loss inside but I don’t break down.”
Schenkelberg said he has learned to live one day at a time and look forward to the future.
When questioned about his feeling toward the Japanese, Schenkelberg showed a picture he had taken in 1966 in Honolulu at the 25th anniversary of Pearl Harbor with Cmdr. Mitsuo Fuchida, who was the lead Japanese pilot in the attack.
“(Notice that) neither one of us is smiling in the picture,” Schenkelberg said.
Schenkelberg said he had one of those “gut” feelings when standing next to the pilot. But he felt it was important to get the picture taken for future generations to see.
“That was something the kids at school really looked at,” Schenkelberg said.
About 100 other Pearl Harbor survivors followed Schenkelberg and had their pictures taken with the pilot.
Fuchida, who in 1966 was an evangelist minister living in Washington state, got a lot of attention at the 25th anniversary ceremonies.
“He tried to join the (Pearl Harbor Survivors Association),” Schenkelberg said. “We said he had the qualifications — but the wrong country.”
Schenkelberg also said he would never buy a Japanese car. However, he did say that “once in a while” a member of the Pearl Harbor Association will show up in a Japanese vehicle.
“My kids buy them,” he said. “They know I won’t, but what can you say?”
Much of the reason he won’t buy a Japanese car is based on the modern-day question of economics.
“We have enough unemployment here,” he said.
Schenkelberg was still in the Navy when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
His first thoughts after hearing the news: “The war is over!”
Given time to reflect on World War II, Schenkelberg said: “If there hadn’t been a Pearl Harbor there wouldn’t have been a Hiroshima.”
Schenkelberg, who has bolstered his on-the-scenes knowledge of the war by studying books on the subject, disputed the theory that President Franklin Roosevelt knew about the Japanese plan to attack but decided to let it occur to sway isolationists.
“I think he may have figured that there would be an attack in the Pacific, but not at Pearl Harbor,” Schenkelberg said.
Because of the relatively shallow depth of the harbor, Navy officials didn’t think that torpedoes could be used against ships there, Schenkelberg said.
Four Japanese planes were targeting the Nevada. Only one torpedo hit the ship.
Finally, Schenkelberg said that through the trauma of the war he was able to hold onto some good memories. He remembers a weekend in February 1941 when Adm. Chester Nimitz allowed “all those who had been working so hard” to spend three days at the luxurious Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
“It cost me a quarter,” he said.
Schenkelberg and his wife have also made many close friends through the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.
Displaying some of his good-natured sense of humor, Schenkelberg said he thought he might raise some trouble at the Truman Library this weekend over a 50-year-old dispute with the USS Missouri.
On Sept. 2, 1945, the treaty with Japan was signed aboard the Missouri at Tokyo Bay. The Nevada was also at Tokyo Bay and members of the crew thought the battle-worn ship would be best suited for the signing of the treaty.
The Missouri hadn’t even come close to matching the Nevada’s war record — but Harry Truman was president, and he was from the state of Missouri.